It was not the sort of Christmas present the 47 governors across the country would have wished for.
Yet the county chief executives now find themselves living on the edge and dreading the sight of detectives from either the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) or the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).
Governors Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) and Gideon Mbuvi Sonko (Nairobi) will continue being in the cold after the Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the earlier High Court decision that governors charged with economic crimes vacate office for the duration of their trial.
The appellate court was rendering two separate decisions on appeals by Mr Waititu and Mr Lenolkulal.
The two governors had sought to overturn the earlier decision that barred them from office while their trials are ongoing.
While refusing to set aside Justice Mumbi Ngugi’s ruling, justices Daniel Musinga, Gatembu Kairu and Anne Murgor declined to grant governors - Mr Waititu and Mr Lenolkulal - reprieve.
Delivering the judgment on behalf of the three-judge bench that heard their cases, Lady Justice Jamila Mohamed said that the High Court ruling does not amount to removing them from office.
They consequently upheld the terms set by the anti-corruption court when it released the two on bond.
“In the case of the appellant, bearing in mind the nature of the charges preferred against him; the circumstances under which the alleged offences were committed - that some of the prosecution witnesses are county staff who are answerable to the appellant, it was not far-fetched for the prosecution to contend that the appellant would most likely interfere with their witnesses or conduct himself in a manner likely to compromise their case if he was not barred from accessing his office during the pendency of the case.”
And whether the bond terms issued were harsh, the court ruled that setting bond was the discretion of a court handling the matter.
“Mr Waititu has not been suspended from his office, he is still the governor of Kiambu County; he is still entitled to his full pay, not half,” the judges said.
The ruling, along with the one on Mr Lenolkulal’s appeal, means that governors barred from office will continue being in the cold unless their bail terms are altered or an appeal is successfully lodged before the Supreme Court.
The three county bosses are charged with economic crimes.
The Council of Governors (CoG) had announced that it would challenge the ruling to bar governors charged with criminal offences from office.
“As a matter of common interest, the county governments will urgently move to court over the ruling seeking governors to step aside when charged with corruption as has been witnessed in the cases of Kiambu, Samburu and Nairobi counties,” CoG said in a statement on December 16.
The ruling means that the only hope for CoG to shield governors from being forced out of office is through the Supreme Court.
The same could apply for Mr Sonko who had also appealed the decision to bar him from office.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji on Friday welcomed the ruling for upholding “the centrality of public interest as an essential consideration where officials abuse public trust. This is a landmark decision in a country where public officials have increasingly treated their offices as personal property.
It is the duty of those placed in positions of trust to understand that the public requires to be served, not to be consumed by those they place into such offices,” said Mr Haji.
Mr Lenolkulal’s lawyer, Mr Paul Nyamodi, said they might appeal the ruling. “I want to have a look at the judgment, study and understand it for what it is before we take a firm position,” he said.
Legal expert Kibe Mungai said the ruling was an important step in the fight against corruption and an unquestionable reminder to governors and other State officers to uphold the law.
“Basically, the ruling is consistent with Chapter Six of the Constitution that if one faces serious criminal offences it would be incompatible for the person to continue to serve in that capacity during the trial,” said Mr Mungai.
“When the law warns against committing a crime, they should know it is serious. If you do not break the law you remain innocent.”
Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya on Friday broke ranks with CoG, saying being barred from office will strengthen the fight against rampant corruption.
Addressing journalists outside his Mvindeni offices in Ukunda after issuing certificates to 225 drivers and tour guides under the South Coast Drivers and Tour Guides Association, Mr Mvurya said priority should be on safeguarding public funds and ensuring prudent use and accountability.
Additional reporting by Fadhili Fredrick